Hundreds of African asylum seekers, jailed for refusing to be part of Israel's controversial mass deportation plan, are to remain in prison until the government responds to a petition challenging their expulsion to a third country. Israel's High Court decided for the third time to give the government an extension to the time limit by which a response must be given to a petition challenging the deportation, which is planned for this Friday.
An estimated 38,000 asylum seekers could be affected by the deportation plan denounced by human rights groups as "cruel and misguided". The Israeli government gave the asylum seekers three months to leave the country. If they refused to go, they faced indefinite imprisonment.
Lawyers acting for the roughly 300 asylum seekers currently imprisoned for refusing "voluntary deportation" to Rwanda or Uganda expressed serious concern. "It is inconceivable that the Jewish people will celebrate Passover while hundreds of asylum seekers wait in prison until the state is so kind as to submit its updated response to the court," wrote Attorney Eitay Mack in response to the Israeli government's request for yet another delay in the case.
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Petitioners have raised serious questions over the government's secret agreement with a third country, which Israel refuses to reveal, but is widely thought to be Rwanda or Uganda. However, both countries deny that any agreement is in place. The petitions, filed by attorneys Avigdor Feldman and Mack, noted that both Rwanda and Uganda have refused to accept asylum seekers deported from Israel against their will.
Amnesty also called out the Israeli government for its inhumane policy. "Deporting African asylum-seekers to two unnamed African countries is an abdication of its responsibility to refugees and an example of the vicious political measures feeding the global refugee crisis," explained the human rights organisation.
The plight of African migrants in Israel, say critics, highlights institutional racism within the country. One report found that Israel recognised only one Sudanese national and 11 Eritreans as refugees. In stark contrast, 94.1 per cent of Eritrean asylum seekers are recognised as refugees in Europe. "Israel's low recognition rate is unparalleled in almost any other country with a functioning asylum regime," the report's authors concluded.
Israel's hostility towards the asylum seekers was highlighted further earlier this month when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested that non-Jewish migrants are a bigger threat than terrorists.